Sandra Bullock – 20 years ago refreshingly candid

                                                  June 2002  By Philip Berk

Despite a string of mediocre performances in mediocre films, Sandra Bullock remains a bankable star. 

Her last movie a comedy, Miss Congeniality, is a a blockbuster, which has earned more than her previous three films — Hope Floats, Practical Magic, and 28 Days, all dramas — combined.

Apparently her fans prefer seeing her doing pratfalls, crossing her eyes, and snorting like a pig.

At her press conference for Miss Congeniality, she looks ravishing, a far cry from the tomboy she plays in the film — until groomed to be a beauty contest winner.

Was she ever a beauty contestant?

“Once at the University of East Carolina, to earn money for the dance department, they put me in a gown and taught me how to walk. I didn’t win but I made a little cash.”

Did she have preconceived ideas about the contestants?

“We all do, but oddly enough because we cast the movie with girls who had been in pageants we were surprised. Some of the girls we found were incredible: feisty, smart and, funny. Some were even lawyers. We quickly learned how wrong it is to generalize.”

Four years ago when she moved to Austin, Texas, people also assumed she had moved there to be near her Time to Kill costar, Matthew McConaughey.

But that was not the case.

She just liked the place.

In fact she likes it so much she made sure Miss Congeniality was shot there

Do the people of Austin make a fuss over her because she’s good for their economy?

“You know what, they don’t care. Just so long as we don’t  block traffic.  But we have put a lot of money into the community, and that’s been good.  Austin is a great place to shoot.  We have an old airport which we’re turning into soundstages.  And really great directors like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge are down there, so everyone sort of helps each other out.”

When Russell Crowe appeared there with his band, did she catch his show?

“I sure did.”  


“He loves to perform. He’s incredibly dynamic, and he’s fearless. Apparently he was a musician before he was an actor. He’d write something the night before, get on stage, and play. It was funny. It’s this little place in Austin. We’ve seen bands there before. We walked upstairs, and the first person I run into is  Jeffrey Katzenberg and then there’s Jodie Foster, and then there’s Ron Howard. I’m like, what the hell are you people doing here in Austin? Get out of my club!”

Of course they were there as Russell’s guests. At the time he had not yet met Meg Ryan.

Sandra’s costar in Miss Congeniality is Benjamin Bratt, the man in Julia Roberts’s life.

As producer of the film, she made sure that Benjamin “had a good social life,” as  she put it, while he was in Austin.


“I literally carved out the schedule to make sure Benjamin had chunks of time where he could go home for extended weekends, since he and Julia were working on different films at the time. I think it’s really important, and it’s always nice if you’re conscious of things like that.”

What was her impression of Benjamin?

“All the women were in love with him not because he’s obviously handsome but he’s so nice, so charming, and so polite. He would walk on the set and everyone would be watching him.”

If she found someone like Benjamin, would she make a commitment?

“You’re right. He’s one of the most thoughtful, dedicated people, he’s like the perfect guy to marry. He’s the kind of husband you’d want because he really is loyal and he’s got that great Latin thing, that friskiness, in him.”

But for the moment, she’s concentrating on her career.

Four years ago, she fired her business manager and replaced him with her father? How is that working out?

“He’s still paying the bills, and he’s great at it. He makes sure his daughter doesn’t end up with nothing at the end of her life.”

Is she enjoying her second career as producer.

“Oh absolutely. I think it’s an incredible job. Sometimes it’s incredibly fruitful and wonderful, and sometimes it is incredibly difficult and painful. I like to do things that scare me, things that are risky, and when it works, the rewards are huge.”

How did Miss Congeniality come about?

“Marc Lawrence the writer  — we had worked together before — brought the story to me, and we developed it from that point on; we hired the director, the cast, the crew. It was a complete collaboration.”

But wasn’t the first director fired.

“What happened was, we hired Hugh Wilson, but once we got into the development process we realized he had different points of view. So we were able to say, ‘Let’s not work on this project, let’s work together on the next,’ and that’s when Donald Petrie took over.”

And how did that work out?

“It was an incredibly collaborative experience. Everyone was invited to give their opinions when we weren’t quite sure of how it was going.”

Just how much power does she have in Hollywood?

“I haven’t the slightest clue. If I had the answer, I’d know I’d lost.”

She was somewhat of a tomboy growing up. 

Did she gravitate more towards boys or girls?

“I always gravitated towards the boys. I was absolutely boy crazy, but I was always a very active child. And I loved to play with girls who’d  get dirty and play wild. I was never a girlie girl, until I got to be much older and then I kind of balanced it out. But I love both sides. It all depends on the occasion.”

Are men attracted to the tomboy type?

“I know men who are. Benjamin for example loves women without make-up. I happen to know somebody who’d rather have me without make-up on. Men that I like, the men in my life, prefer women natural. They don’t want us gussied up. It’s nice every once in a while to dress up, but it’s nicer when you roll out of bed and someone tells you, ‘You’re so beautiful. ’ The reason women wear makeup is for other women, not men.”

Is she dating anyone right now?

“I am dating, but things can change on a dime.”

The tabloids identify him as Bob Schneider, a musician. They’ve been called an odd couple because of the material he writes and performs.

Is that true?

“You have to remember, Bob has two bands. One where the lyrics are incredibly fun and outrageous and really filthy and I love it. And then there’s the other side that’s beautifully lyrical. Look, he’s an artist, he’s a performer.” 

Are she and Matthew  McConaughey still close?

“He’s still a best friend.”

Was she surprised when he was arrested for disorderly conduct?

“Matthew’s a great lover of life. He is very spirited and loving. People think his gregarious behavior is the result of something other than pure joy. I know better. He’s a responsible adult. He would never get behind the wheel of a car if he’s had something to drink, and he’s not headed for rehab.”

Like Leonardo DiCaprio she has a German mother, which makes both of them very popular in Germany. Tragically, her mother died last year of cancer.

Leonardo always talks about his roots; Sandra doesn’t.

How come?

“No one ever asks me.”

Just how German is she?

“Well, when I’m home with my sister Erika, I’m very German. But when I’m with Johnny Bullock, my father, and the rest of the family in Alabama, I feel very much American. So it’s a direct split. There are things that I’m sure are very Americanized about me. And I’m sure there are qualities that are very German. I don’t know what those are, but I’m sure people are very happy to point them out. It’s my heritage, and I don’t know how to differentiate between the two.”

Does she have a preference in foods?

“I like certain German foods but then gain I like McDonald’s. I get the benefit of both. Ice cream I prefer American; wiener schnitzel and the brotchen I prefer from Germany.”

Looking back over the past ten years, has fame changed her?

“I don’t think fame or success changes anybody. If you’re a nightmare, you were a nightmare before you became famous. Fame magnifies whatever it is. It’s magnified my insecurities, my drive, my ambition. But I never thought I was a better than anyone else. Of course I’ve been affected by it, you can’t avoid that, but if it doesn’t pay the bills, if it doesn’t walk the dog,  if it doesn’t do the things that are really important, it kind of goes away.”


Interviewing Sandra Bullock is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

When she walks in the room, looking more beautiful than humanly possible, she wants to know what’s to eat.

Irrepressible, scintillating, scrumptious, Sandra is a ball.

She has two movies out, Murder by Numbers and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and another later in the year (tentatively called Two Weeks Notice) with Hugh Grant.

So why is she working so hard? I ask her.

“The truth is it’s all about release dates. We started making Murder by Numbers over a year ago. I wasn’t going to do Ya-Ya Sisterhood  because a friend of mine was directing. I wasn’t sure if she’d turn into Satan and I didn’t want to destroy a friendship, but she didn’t, and she talked me into it, although it’s only a supporting role. As for the film with Hugh Grant, that came about when we were making Miss Congeniality. The writer had the idea  and we started developing it two years ago. So it’s just weird how these things stack up. I’m also producing a TV series which has been picked up for ABC next season; so it’s just crazy, the unexpected timing and everything.”

If Sandra’s having a good year, she deserves it.

Except for Miss Congeniality, none of her recent films have been blockbusters. But that never bothered her.

She just brushes it off, picks herself up, and starts all over again.

In Murder by Numbers she has  her strongest dramatic role in years and she equips herself admirably.

“It was liberating to do something like this,” she told me. “What I liked about her is she’s not attractive in terms of esthetics. She’s abrasive, she’s troubled, and she’s damaged. It was the type of role that’s usually saved for men. What I liked about her was she was covering up for something that’s much worse than you think.”

In Ya- Ya- Sisterhood she again plays a damaged woman, this time a writer who’s afraid that if she gets married she would do to her own children what she remembers her mother doing to her.”

In her own life Sandra has steered away from marriage.

But she’s had many relationships.

When you ask her why, she changes the subject, preferring to talk about the media glare that surrounds her.

“Working in New York” (where Two Weeks Notice was shot) “I had to ask myself, ‘What have I been doing all my life?’ I felt like I sort of lived under a nice little cushy rock” (in Austin Texas.) “I don’t live in L.A. so  I can kinda get away with doing my stuff. Not many stories come out about me. But the minute I hit the streets in New York, all sort of  ‘Other Life of Sandy’ was created. 

“I used to say I didn’t care, but it’s not true, and it started getting to me, after a while affecting my coming to work. ‘I can’t deal with this, either get out of the business or do something else in the business.’ It seemed that for the past couple of months I’ve had an active life style that I wasn’t privy to, that I wasn’t around for. 

“But in the end it doesn’t really matter. They haven’t reported that I killed somebody, so it really isn’t that bad.”

Obviously it’s affected her relationships

Some of her male friends must be gunshy by now?

“Wouldn’t you be? And the saddest part is, if somebody says to you ‘I like you but I cannot handle the world you live in,’ can you imagine what that feels like? So I have made huge efforts to live in places where I can be normal as possible. I’ve selfishly made this cocoon that works for me and my friends.”

But she does have an apartment in New York?

“I’ve had it for years.”

And L.A.?

“No, I’ve bailed out of L.A. I have an office there, and a little place I hang out; it’s good for work there. I have friends there, but I don’t spend my home life there.”

Is she still remodeling her house in Austin?

“I am never not going to be remodeling.  My place here in New York has been under construction for over two years. I still can’t live in it, but that’s just who I am. That’s what the other side of my life is. I love architecture and construction, always renewing; that’s my hobby, it’s my obsession, my sickness. Every place I live in live in is under construction right now. There’s no place I can go to that’s not under construction. That’s a sickness.”

In Ya- Ya- Sisterhood, she worries about becoming a mother.

Her own mother after a five year battle with cancer passed two years ago.

It was a devastating loss that she doesn’t like to talk about even though she’s always shared details about her growing up surrounded by a (German born) mother who was an opera singer and a father who was her vocal coach.

She also has a sister.

So I chide her about revealing in a recent interview that her father worked for  the C.I.A.

“I didn’t say it was the C.I.A. He worked for the Pentagon. I said I don’t know what he did. There was no mention of the CIA. I would love it if he was in the C.I.A.”

But wasn’t he a voice coach?

“He was. He went to the Pentagon so he could sing overseas, and he became really  good at his job; so during the day he worked at the Pentagon and at night he taught voice and on weekends he sang. And then after his accident he no longer worked for the Pentagon and taught voice full time.”

And she had no idea what he did?

“You’re ten years old and you care what your father did! I just had no idea what  he did!”

And when he had the accident, her mother gave up her career?

“That was all true.”

“And I’m not pregnant with Hugh Grant’s baby,” she adds good naturedly.

Would she like to be?

“Would you guys stop trying to get me pregnant!”

Wouldn’t she like that?

“You ask me that question every time I come here,  and absolutely, yes. Absolutely I am going to have children.”

But when?

“Like I keep saying, I could have had kids when I was seventeen, and I almost did. I would have been married to my high school boyfriend had events not been  different,  but you know what,  timing is everything. I am lucky that I have a baby right now, and that baby is my career. But I’m getting tired in a lot of ways because I’ve exhausted a certain side of myself. There are other things I want to explore. If I find the right father for my child that’s when I will do it biologically. If my clock should start donging like Big Ben, maybe I’ll adopt. But I’ve never even thought about that because I always thought I would biologically have children, and if I have a family, it will be the right way. I don’t want to have a Hollywood wedding and be divorced in two years because I haven’t done it for the right reasons. There’s a lot of factors involved in child rearing. You want a good husband and  a good daddy. 

“But I’m not worried about it, and I’m not panicked. I don’t feel there’s a time constraint hanging over me. I love children and if I were pregnant now — and I could be — I might come back next week and tell you I’m having a baby. Who knows? It will happen when it’s supposed to happen. I am not going to rush into it  because of the pressures of society.  People think you should be married, and that’s when mistakes happen and that’s not good for a little person.”

Does she have a preference in foods?

“I like certain German foods but then gain I like McDonald’s. I get the benefit of both. Ice cream I prefer American; wiener schnitzel and the brotchen I prefer from Germany.”

Has she ever considered dubbing her movies for Germany?

“I haven’t yet. I keep saying I’m going to but I think they’ve gotten used to a someone else’s certain voice.”

Although she prefers halter tops and jeans, she looked stunning at  the recent Academy Awards when she co-presented with Hugh Grant.

Later she surprised everyone by admitting the Valentino dress she wore she found in her closet.

Looking back over the past ten years, has fame changed her?

“I don’t think fame or success changes anybody. If you’re a nightmare, you were a nightmare before you became famous. Fame magnifies whatever it is. It’s magnified my insecurities, my drive, my ambition. But I never thought I was a better than anyone else. Of course I’ve been affected by it, you can’t avoid that, but if it doesn’t pay the bills, if it doesn’t walk the dog,  if it doesn’t do the things that are really important, it kind of goes away.”

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